The $147.8 billion U.S. green industry includes nursery and greenhouse producers, landscape service providers as well as wholesale and retail distributors (Hall et al., 2006). The wholesale value of plant production by nurseries in the top 17 U.S. states was estimated at $4.65 billion in 2006 [U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), 2007] and $4.2 billion in 2008 for commercial greenhouses in the top 15 states (USDA, 2009). Nursery production is comprised of ornamental plants and trees with woody stems, including broadleaf and coniferous evergreens, deciduous shade and flowering trees, deciduous shrubs, cut and live Christmas trees, propagation material, or lining out stock (USDA National Ag. Statistics Service, 2007). Floriculture crops such as bedding and garden plants, potted flowering plants, herbaceous perennials, foliage plants, cut flowers, propagation materials, flowering hanging baskets, and cultivated florist greens are produced in greenhouses and in the field (USDA, 2009).
Commercial greenhouse floriculture and nursery production is high-intensity and high-input agriculture that is often concentrated in or near urban centers making its production and waste disposal practices visible to the non-farm public (Berghage et al., 1999). To produce high-quality, uniform, and consistent crops, both industries frequently irrigate and fertilize their crops, which has led to ground and surface water contamination (Richards and Reed, 2004). They also rely heavily on insecticides, fungicides, growth regulators, and plastics (Berghage et al., 1999; Cameron, 2009; Krug et al., 2008; Lopez et al., 2008). For example, pots, flats, and cell packs produced for the nursery and greenhouse industries use an estimated 320 to 408 mn pounds of plastic annually (Botts, 2007; Garthe and Kowal, 1993). Containers are disposed of by growers, consumers, and landscapers, thus presenting a significant disposal issue for the industry (Evans and Hensley, 2004).
Hodges et al. (2008) reported production practices of 2484 U.S. nursery firms as of 2005. Although sustainable production practices were not explicitly asked, several questions indicated some early adoption of them, especially for pest management decisions. One-third to one-half reported using pest-resistant varieties. Eight percent to 27.2% used biopesticides or lower-toxicity pesticides. One-fourth to half adjusted fertilization rates based on environmental and plant factors or managed irrigation to reduce pests. Over half inspected incoming stock plants or removed infested plants or plant parts. So, there was evidence that some businesses were making environmentally friendly choices.
Consumer and market interest in non-horticultural sustainable business practices has encouraged discussions about sustainable production and certification in the floriculture industry (Krug et al., 2008; Stewart, 2007). The goal of sustainable production is to reduce environmental degradation, maintain agricultural productivity, promote economic viability, conserve resources and energy, and maintain stable communities and quality of life (Krug et al., 2008). Examples of sustainable practices include, but are not limited to, recycling irrigation water and plastic, implementing biological controls, and using alternative energy sources (Lopez et al., 2008). Sustainable business practices are developed based on the economical use of resource inputs as well as how excesses or wastes are created and disposed. Many businesses already engage in sustainable business practices (e.g., water, electricity, or other fuel conservation or reduction of use) without characterizing the practice as sustainable.
In the United States, sustainable certification programs for floriculture products are very recent; the Veriflora® certification program began in 2007 and Milieu Project Sierteelt (MPS) certified their first U.S. operation in 2009 (Milieu Project Sierteelt, 2009; Veriflora 2009). Veriflora® and MPS offer similar services to customers but differ in their certification processes. Located in the United States, the Veriflora® certification program is for growers and handlers of fresh-cut flowers and potted plants. Based in The Netherlands, MPS targets entrepreneurs in the floriculture, bulb, nursery stock, and vegetable sectors (Milieu Project Sierteelt, 2009). The number of businesses that are adopting sustainable practices outside of these certification programs is unknown. Thus, there may be a substantial number of growers who engage in sustainable practices without the cost in time and money of certification.
The steps taken by the grower to become certified and how the growers are evaluated on their sustainable practices also differ between Veriflora® and MPS. Veriflora® focuses on eight categories for certification: sustainable crop production, ecosystem management and protection, resource conservation and energy efficiency, integrated waste management, fair labor practices, community benefits, product quality, and product safety and purity (Veriflora, 2009). MPS' approach to certification is based on four categories: crop protection agents, waste, energy, and fertilizers (Milieu Project Sierteelt, 2009). MPS' approach evaluates the production aspect of the business, whereas Veriflora® also examines the treatment of workers and the business' impact on the community.
Like with any shift in production, a change to a new technology may create a new segment of the market, thus creating a niche market for products or the entire output of that business. There is growing concern by consumers about the origin of products they purchase and how they were produced; as noted in previous research, some consumers are willing to pay a premium price or shop exclusively at one business over another if they know that products are grown locally or in a sustainable way (Krug et al., 2008). There also is a belief that the demand for organic and sustainable flower products is increasing in the United States as a result of an emerging market segment focused on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice, known as Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, 2009; Stewart, 2007). The LOHAS market represents 30% of all U.S. households and is spending $230 billion annually on socially and environmentally responsible products (Stewart, 2007). Thus, the consumer demand for product stewardship or environmentally conscious products and business practices is rapidly rising.
Researchers recently investigated consumer preferences for some sustainable horticultural products and practices (Hall et al., 2010a; Yue et al., 2010). Consumers responded that one important attribute in a plant purchase was the container, but there was diversity in container preferences with some segments preferring compostable containers and others preferring containers made from recycled materials. One segment, labeled “Price Conscious,” was more concerned about price than container type. As the number of consumers concerned about sustainable business or production practices (among them type of plant container) increases, the demand for sustainable business practices may become greater.
The objectives of this study were 1) to create a benchmark of current sustainable production practices of greenhouse and nursery producers; and 2) to determine if differences exist based on attitudes and obstacles by income, grower type, and business classification. Benchmarks would provide future reference points to show adoption of sustainable methods.
By examining producer differences, marketers and suppliers may have a better idea of which growers would be more likely to adopt the newer methods and what impediments leads businesses not to adopt.
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